When the government’s COVID ‘tier system’ was revised last year, reclassifying gyms as ‘essential’ and allowing them to remain open even in areas imposing the highest levels of restrictions, many were surprised to see that the new guidelines precluded group exercise in ‘tier 3’ areas.
This no doubt came as a massive blow, not just to group training devotees, but to the facility operators who relied primarily on a class-based structure to keep the lights on. CrossFit and boutique gyms being obvious examples.
Many viewed the new guidelines as a knee jerk response, the government having simply been spooked by the word ‘group’ and taking the easy option of blanket bans, rather than working with industry professionals to properly establish the risks.
Now, with gyms set to reopen on April 12th, it still remains unclear as to the immediate future of group classes.
Our Fitness Editor, Andrew Tracey, argues that when done correctly, group sessions can be a safe space to exercise while adhering to social distancing guidelines, and that if we follow the examples set in the CrossFit community, there’s no reason why group classes can’t open up sooner…
Put simply, an environment that – even as a pre COVID baseline – applies control measures for its members, carefully plans and schedules participant numbers and is subject to the overseeing of a coach or trainer throughout, is in a prime position to implement COVID compliance guidelines and ensure they’re properly followed.
The past 12 months haven’t been easy, and despite the measures put in place, many CrossFit spaces have had to close their doors.
Hannah Hines, co-owner of CrossFit Huntsman in Hertfordshire, laid out a number of measures to ensure the safety of its members, before being forced to close due to newer national lockdown restrictions.
“All classes had to be booked ahead of time, which is normal, but we cut our class numbers nearly in half to make sure we were well within the governments guidelines on members per sq ft,” explains Hines. “Each member was asked to wait in their car, outside of the box until their class started to ensure social distancing. Once inside they were clocked in by a member of staff for the track and trace scheme, had their temperature checked and were asked to use hand sanitiser.”
Beyond simple social distancing and a quick hand rub, Hines elaborated that throughout each session, an ever-present coach ensured adherence to the guidelines for the safety of members.
“The gym itself is divided into 15 individually taped areas, which ensures that training members are at least three metres apart. At the end of each session, all kit used [which was strictly not to be shared] was wiped down, disinfected and returned. All of this preceded a 15-minute gap between classes to avoid any overlap and to properly foster social distancing.”
Although seemingly strict, Hines said members were more than happy and grateful for the diligence of the team to guarantee the safest possible training environment.
The rise and rise of group training movements such as CrossFit is indicative of much more than the efficacy of high intensity exercise. Many cite the tight knit communities and camaraderie as being far more important than ‘the work’ itself – a sense of belonging that can be very difficult to conjure up in your living room armed with just a pair of dumbbells.
Something we have been deprived of for so long.
What the Science Says
Data from Sheffield Hallam’s Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre last year indicated that the average infection rate from fitness facilities across the UK and Europe was just 0.78 per 100,000 visits.
Couple this with well thought out, structured and monitored workout environments – and providing you refrain from high-fiving or hugging your ‘classmates’ post-workout – throwing down at your local CrossFit box certainly poses no greater risk than a solo jaunt around your local Globo Gym.
Moving forward, the government’s reluctance to allow group exercise to continue, despite gyms themselves being allowed to open come April 12th, may well have stoked unfounded fear amongst the public, but it is my personal opinion that if you have any concerns at all about returning to your fitness regime in 2021, then doing so in an environment where guidelines and measures can be mostly carefully implemented and monitored should go a long way towards easing your peace of mind.
Until government guidelines change, however, we have no option other than to respect the rules and wait.
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